In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses every surface becoming a screen in the Screening chapter, but this technological force isn’t just about converting surfaces into screens. He also discusses the possibility for libraries to become platforms for cultural life within their communities and he writes of the importance of encouraging contemplation and how online activities can provoke action. I think we’ve done some of this with our Artist-in-Residence and Curations programs. They’ve both led to ongoing actions and we think they inspire contemplation and further thought with at least some of our users. These programs have certainly had Interactive elements, with the current Artist Timo Rissanen actually creating his work in the central library stairwell over several weeks. Our Artists have asked questions of us and what we do that we’d not have asked of ourselves. This has enabled some reflection on our part and led to improved services, including with our search and discovery platform and our way finding signage.
At UTS Library the influence of Chris Gaul (our first Artist) cannot be overstated. He has had a significant impact on how we view our collections and this has led to ongoing improvements to discovery as well as search interfaces. His pioneering Spectogram has been recognised and reflected upon by several of our subsequent artists. He played a significant part in establishing a design-led visual identity for UTS Library.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw were asked to artistically interpret the use of our new Library Retrieval System in 2014. This ambitious project resulted in a truly amazing live data visualisation of the requests and returns to this huge robotically served underground storage system. Their work was inspirational and playful. It also added an important dimension to our identity as experts in data at a time when UTS was focussing itself on the importance of data and data analysis.
Zoë Sadokierski followed Elisa and Adam in 2015. She has been a long time collaborator with the Library through her design work on various experimental formats for ePRESS, in her artistic installations within the Library and by sharing her research on the intersection of print and screen technology (as opposed to the myth that circulates about these two being competitors). Her Residency explored the very nature of the book through research and by producing artist’s books. She also conducted a very interactive and collaborative production of a book live at the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival. Like previous artists her work has had a very significant impact on our visual and physical identity as a library.
Starting in late 2016, we added digital literacy kits to our collection. Including low cost technology like Sphero, Makey-Makey and basic VR, these kits have been incorporated into both our own staff development and our educational programs for academics and students. They represent a playful way to introduce technology literacies, expanding on our traditional role in developing information literacy skills.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw partnered as the UTS Library Artist-in-Residence for 2014. Works from this Residency are now prominently displayed in the UTS Blake Library in Haymarket, Sydney.
Their brief was to provide an artistic interpretation of the UTS Library Retrieval System (LRS). Their resulting major work 11-808 is a live data visualisation that interprets the use of the LRS in real time. The purpose of the entirely underground system needed to be communicated to a wide audience, illustrating how the system was being used and demonstrating its value to the UTS community. The brief was extremely challenging, with a tight budget and deadline, but Elisa and Adam’s work has exceeded expectations.
The result is an elegant and poetic display of data that shows how this system is being used and, via the catalogue of library metadata, the dynamic movement of collections around the Library ecosystem. Through their artists’ perspective, beauty and the interaction of colour, Elisa and Adam have conveyed meaning and understanding to an extent that I think Joseph Albers* would have approved.
They also provided a playful sound installation, Conversations, that explores the random nature of the ways books are stored within the 11,808 steel bins of the LRS, arranged only by spine height. Here they have provided audible “conversations” between the books in selected bins.
Their work is artistically beautiful, superbly designed and technically very clever. Both works are eloquent in conveying meaning as well as exploring and highlighting the nature of this system. In doing so they have provided attractive and engaging works that appeal to the curiosity of Library users and that speak to them in very contemporary language.
The slide show above illustrates the progress from excavation and building to loading of the operational LRS itself.
As you read this UTS Library staff are busy overseeing the load of more than 400,000 books into the Library’s new automated retrieval system (LRS) under Alumni Green. It is exciting to see years of planning come to fruition and to be so close to realising the benefits of the LRS.
By storing low-use physical items in this purpose-built retrieval system we will be able to relieve overcrowding on book shelves in the Library and make room to continue to expand our collection of print resources. Regular library visitors will have noticed the tightly-packed shelves and perhaps occasionally been frustrated by difficulty in locating books. From the end of 2014, only the newest and most highly-used physical items will be housed on open shelves, making it easier to browse and locate items amongst the most popular books from our collection. The LRS also allows for the merger of the Blake and Kuring-Gai libraries at the end of 2015.
We realize that older items in our collection continue to have value and need to remain easily accessible. This was the rationale behind building an on-site retrieval system, rather than using off-site storage from which books could only be retrieved irregularly. Material in our LRS will be delivered regularly, with deliveries scheduled several times each day. It is also the reason we’ve been busy making enhancements to our catalogue so you can find new ways to discover items in our collections by searching and browsing online. Shelf View lets you browse a ‘bookshelf’ displaying book covers, our ‘collection ribbon’ is a unique way to delve in to our collection by subject, and we are working on recommendations and personalisation.
The LRS will therefore let us continue to build our collections, with room to expand to at least 2040, in a carefully controlled and secure environment ensuring the long-term preservation and protection of this valuable resource. It will also help us make our collection accessible by relieving overcrowding on book shelves. Of equal importance, it will help us meet the needs of our clients from study spaces as teaching and learning changes and our student population grows. Currently library space is dominated by book shelves, but increasingly we hear from clients, and observe ourselves, that there are not enough places to study in the Library. And we know we need diverse spaces to facilitate different types of learning from quiet, individual study to participatory group learning. This is why, once the lower use items in our collection are relocated to the LRS, we will be working on delivering new types of spaces for learning and research. We hope as well to provide spaces and technologies that facilitate access to productive activities such as multi-media, gaming and “maker” technologies because many of our students are no longer assessed purely on written output: they are making things like models, videos, games, etc.
We’ve tried to build sustainability into every aspect of the LRS. The building itself has major sustainability features*, and will store books in a highly compact format; storing the same amount of books in a traditional library would require a building 4-5 times larger. We’ve also paid attention to smaller details to reduce the environmental impact of our operations. That’s why, for example, our staff will walk between the LRS and the Blake Library using trollies and backpacks to deliver books, rather than rely on cars which add to traffic congestion and pollution.
The LRS presents an exciting opportunity to expand library services and collections for the future, helping the library play a central role in the learning, teaching and research activities of UTS. You can learn more about the LRS on our website http://www.lib.uts.edu.au/future-library/library-retrieval-system-lrs
* Sustainability Features:
There is no Green Star rating category for a facility such as the LRS, but it benefitted greatly from being constructed under the same project works as the 5 Green Star design rated Thomas St Building (an extension for the Science Faculty and Graduate School of Health). For example, the project utilised the sustainable concrete (required to be made with recycled rainwater) poured on the Thomas St Project for the LRS project. Other elements were the very strict waste management requirements, providing evidence of waste minimisation during construction. The design also incorporates significant natural lighting brought into the LRS picking station area via the large skylight that will double as a viewing lens from Alumni Green.
The LRS itself contains high-grade insulation which minimises energy consumption to the building to control thermal issues. A number of measures have been employed to ensure an easily maintained constant temperature in the book storage Vault. The LRS has been constructed under the Alumni Green with the 600mm of earth together with the insulated concrete providing excellent insulation, far exceeding the insulation requirements. The Vault is also insulated from the Plenum via lightweight insulated panels and insulated concrete and blockwork.
The Plenum itself pre-cools the air to be used in the facility by exposure to the constant cool temperature of exposed rock and concrete that surrounds it. The air path through the plenum is long and winding to ensure the maximum exposure to the surfaces and therefore maximum reduction of outside air temperature. The use of pre-cooled air reduces the energy required by the mechanical plant substantially.
Note: I’ve also posted this here https://www.lib.uts.edu.au/blog/university-librarian/2014/07/our-library-retrieval-system#